Sing a song, dance a jig, tell a joke. Repeat. How hard can it possibly be to put together an awards show that is festive and not excruciating? Apparently harder than we think, given how the last few years have gone. While picking a good host is definitely part of engineering a good awards show, it's not the whole ball game — Neil Patrick Harris is a good host, certainly, but last night's Emmys left something to be desired. So here's a simple list of ideas of how to put together a ceremony that feels like more than just a tuxedoed study hall.
You need a fun opening.
Late-night hosts have often opened with a monologue. That's fine, as long as it's really funny, but otherwise, take a cue from Jimmy Fallon when he hosted the Emmys a few years ago: big silly musical number with lots of self-deprecating jokes.
Stop using the ceremony as a promotional vehicle and instead pair people who actually know each other.
Last night, Will Arnett and Margo Martindale presented an award together in an excruciating "bit" that promoted their new show The Millers. (Which is deeply horrible.) In addition to forced banter never being funny, there's also nothing fun about seeing those two people present together. Allison Janney and Anna Faris are perfectly lovely, but there's no joy in their togetherness. Allison Janney presenting alongside someone else from The West Wing? Now we're talking. The reason it's delightful to watch Amy Poehler and Tina Fey present things isn't just that they're brilliant comedians, it's that they're kind of a duo already, and there's inherent pleasure in seeing them perform together.
One In Memoriam segment. That's it.
The funereal tone of last night's Emmy ceremony was oppressive. It was too much! Just do one montage, with clips of some people broken out for added poignance, and maybe some sad, respectful singing in the background. Also, it'd be great if the host could ask the audience to hold its applause until the end (or for the broadcast to mute the sound from the auditorium), because hearing who gets the most posthumous applause turns the whole thing into a gross popularity contest.
This year's Oscars celebrated the ten-year anniversary of the movie Chicago. Last night's Emmys, for some insane reason, acknowledged the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. Why?
Is it possible to do a touching, meaningful tribute during an awards show? Theoretically. But does anyone actually want to watch a tribute? Hell no. The middle part of awards shows gets hella boring, and this kind of padding is why — lugubriousness will really kill any comic momentum the show might have built to that point.
Let the people speak!
Where did awards-show directors get the idea that the acceptance speeches are the place to cut for time? This is false. Less strained banter from presenters, more time for people to thank the teachers that inspired them, please.
Follow the Will Ferrell model.
Have you ever seen Will Ferrell do a bad job at an awards show? You have not. Here he is presenting at the 2006 Oscars:
And doing a song at the 2008 Oscars:
And at the Oscars last year:
And at the Golden Globes:
And then last night, he did a bit where he brought his kids out onstage and it was great. This is supposed to be fun! Let it be fun!